Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kamshet - a quiet time by Uksan Lake

18th Apr 2014

Camping by the Uksan lake

And finally! Yes finally I pitched my tent in the outdoors for the first time. It was a great feeling assembling it in not more than 15 minutes. The location was much more than apt. Under the shade of a swaying tree, by the clear rippling waters of the lake, with a view of the distant mountains, watching the odd egret takeoff from the serene water surface and not a soul to bother; our camping stint was more than a success.

Kamshet is a small hidden village on the way to Pune from Mumbai after crossing Lonavala, to the left of the old Mumbai Expressway. It is a peaceful getaway from the city humdrum if you prefer lazing in a hammock, reading a book by a water body, taking a short walk into the forest, waking up to the chirping of the birds. As you leave the highway behind, you are welcomed by the Indrayani River to your left. Getting through the market place would pose to be a small hurdle as cars and bikes are parked like stray cows and disorganization seems to be the only organized way as people walking in the middle of the road turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to your presence. Once through the market place, lined sugarcane fields welcome you, grazing cows give you an uninterested look, thatched huts sing of the village folklore, flock of sheep are being lazily disciplined by the shepherd, bullock carts carrying loads of sugarcane throw open a canvas of the true village life and what it does is bring a joyous smile to your lips.

Uksan Lake
Uksan Lake
Our destination was Uksan lake for the day. You need to ask for the road to Govitri or the Nane road. It is around 10 kms from the Kamshet marketplace. It is actually a small dam with a secluded, clean and placid lake. Some beautiful bungalows are built around it. Even in the summer heat, a cool and refreshing breeze didn’t make us feel the heat. Some beautiful bungalows are built on the periphery of the lake. Other than these, there is accommodation available for travelers like the Native place and adventure facilitators like Nirvana who offer paragliding activities. A walking excursion by the lake or the nearby forest should be a good adventure affair. The lakes’ water is very clean.

Kondeshwar Temple
A little before you reach Uksan lake, a road leads to the left which takes you to Jambivali village and Kondeshwar temple. This is an old Shiva temple and behind the temple is a clearing in the forest which is a good picnic spot and also gives access to a waterfall and some small ponds. From here you get a panoramic view of the forests and the nearby Dhak Bahiri mountain which also is a trekkers delight. The temple was on my itinerary but due to time constraints could not make it.

Soaring in the skies
Kamshet is known for other reasons too! If your desire is to soar like an eagle, with your heart pumping wildly and yet enjoying the sights below, to feel the power of the wind as you cut through it, to have a birds’ eye view of the landscape; all you need to do is land up at one of the paragliding adventure homes here, Nirvana or Native place being one of them. For a ten minute tandem ride in the skies, it would cost you INR 3000. There are accommodation facilities too but they cost extra. We were unlucky not to see any gliders or maybe were at the wrong place. The forests of Kamshet would definitely be a birders paradise too since we heard different calls and hoots from the winged fancies.

Places nearby:
  • The hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala are not very far.
  • The famous Karla, Bhaja and Bedsa Buddhist caves are at short accessible distances (by a vehicle of course)
  • The visually mesmerizing Pawana Lake and Valvan dam are nearby too.
  • There are many trekking options. The Forts of Tung, Tikona, Lohagad and Visapur are on different sides of the Pawana Lake. Dhak Bahiri is another option.

 Some more photos
Placid waters of the lake

The next drifting wanderer

Enjoying the fresh breeze

Some meditation by the peaceful waters

Sandwich time

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Igatpuri – Not just another station on your long distance route

Driving to Igatpuri - 08th Mar 2014

            The purpose was driving. To a new place. Not too far, not to close. What was supposed to be an early morning rendezvous started only in the heat of the 11 am shining sun. The agenda was to visit the Vippasana Centre, to laze around the banks of the Tringalwadi lake and watch the Tringalwadi fort from a distance and gaze at the clear blue skies. But when you are traveling with women, plans are bound to fail. You can leave only when they are ready to leave,you can do only what they make you do and then they will invariably convince you that everything happened as per YOUR plans, YOUR planning wasn’t right, basically YOU are a good for nothing!

            Ok! Let’s not spoil the drive by discussing unwanted matters. Igatpuri is around 100 kms from Thane. After once crosses the main toll booth for Nasik, the road is well maintained and smooth all the way.The ideal time to be in this place would be the monsoons or just after the monsoons when the entire area would be lush green. You can easily make out the cone like challenging peaks of the Mahuli fort to your left before you get to the Kasara ghat. Crossing the Kasara ghat, don’t miss the railway tracks to your left and you might just be lucky to see a passing engine happily hooting. The whole expanse of the scenery with the mountains watching over will give you a hard time concentrating on the wheel.

Camel Valley
            A few kilometers before reaching Manas resort (the most hyped landmark of Igatpuri) is the Ghatandevi temple. Opposite the Ghatandevi temple, on the other side of the highway is Camel back valley offering a few flat plateaus and a breathtaking scenery. Those flat stretches of the mountain offer a great chance for camping. Don’t know the way to get to them but would definitely like to explore them someday (obviously not with family). That would be some adventure!
Camel Valley
Ghatandevi Temple

Vippassana Centre
Myanmar Gate
Painting of the Buddha
            To get to the Vippasana Centre, just after you cross Manas resort, leave the highway and get on the service road. Take the first left and ask for Dhammagiri (people look confused if you ask for Vippasana Centre or Pagoda). Just as one gets the first glimpse of the railway station to your right, take the first left, crossing the Ram Mandir.
            The Vippasana Center is spread across 400 acres of land with the mountains as a backdrop. The huge golden Myanmar gate welcomes you to Dhammagiri. At the enquiry office are around 20 huge paintings depicting the life and teachings of the Buddha. The paintings are really beautiful and the artist deserves all the commendation for his art. The only bad thing is that the lighting in the rooms are not conducive for clicking good photos as you are almost sure to catch some reflections in every click. The writings around it are very interesting too. On request, you are allowed to watch a 17 minute video narrating the history, importance, rules and regulations of Dhammagiri. You can also meditate for 10 minutes listening to the Gurus’ voice on tape. Outside the office is a Vijay Stambh. The whole place depicts silence and is well maintained and clean. Beautiful gardens with colorful flowers welcome you as you walk towards the main Stupas and the Gurus residence. That’s as far as you can go if you are not a student. A guide shows you the dining places of the students, their living chambers, their places of meditation etc. As you walk towards the main Stupa, you come across a bell which can be heard in the entire centre. This place was a very calm and soothing experience.

Dam it!
Bhawali Dam
            There happen to be a lot of dams in the area. The Bhawli dam is situated very near once you have reached Igatpuri. Where the service road end, cross the highway and drive for around 6 kms through the village of Pimpri to reach it. The road is marked with green cultivated fields on both sides, stacks of hay, sunflowers greeting you with their swaying smiles and bullock carts to make the picture complete. Once you climb up the dam steps, the beauty of the lake and the backdrop of the mountains has a pleasing effect. This is an ideal place for a picnic. 
            The Tringalwadi lake and dam is also nearby and at a distance of about 6 kms. from Igatpuri. The Tringalwadi fort is also near to the lake and I have heard it is an easy trek to the fort and that the lake looks exceptionally beautiful from the top of the fort. The other dams in this area are the Talegaon dam and the railway dam. Haven’t been to any so can’t comment much.

            From my colleagues, all I had heard in the name of restaurants or hotels at Igatpuri was Manas resort, but there are a many other options. We had food at the Hotel Grand Ashwin which also has rooms; children play area and swimming pool too. On the highway, there is no dearth of veg or non-veg restaurants, dhabas and you can easily find accommodation too no matter which side of the Kasara ghat you are on.

            Overall, I liked my drive to Igatpuri. Would definitely like to explore more of it, especially the Tringalwadi fort.

            If you are going from Thane, there are 2 toll booths on the way, one costing 29 one way and 43 for return and the other costing 95 one way.

More photos


The roof of the Myanmar gate
Dissapearing into the tunnel - Kasara Ghat
Guards at the Ghatandevi Temple
The picturesque Bhawali lake
A look at the landscape from the Bhawali dam
Bhawali dam
Bhawali lake

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rajmachi - a delightful trek and the twin forts of Manoranjan and Shrivardhan

The watchtowers of Rajmachi - Manoranjan and Shrivardhan (11th and 12th Jan 2014)

Beautiful moon over the Srivardhan fort
Fellow trekkers : Soumen, Nagesh, Yashwant, Vineet, Rohit, Girish, Siddesh

Let me start by saying that this definitely happens to be one of the best treks I have ventured on so far. There are two ways to reach Rajmachi (Udhewadi), the first being through the motorable road via Lonavala (16 kms) or the difficult trek from Kondiwade village in Karjat – we took the latter. Everyone was on time and caught the right Karjat local. When I caught the train at Thane, Yashwant was sitting in a corner all wrapped up as if just out of the freezer. Dombivali brought the rest of the gang with huge heavy bags carrying cooking utensils, a cylinder, rice, daal, potatoes and what not. After having a quick cup of tea at Karjat, we walked to the highway to catch a tumtum to Kondivade village. The tumtum driver charged us INR 200 and for a hundred extra, he was ready to drop us to the Kondana village but we decided to walk the extra 25 minutes.

Till the time we reached Kondana village and started the trek, Nagesh reminded us every now and then that there used to be an Emu farm here and how frightened he was to see the huge birds when he had come here earlier. It would have been a privilege to drop him in the middle of the the strong legged and gawking birds but alas, there was no Emu farm now. And who knows whether he had actually seen Emus’ or Ostriches or peacocks or crows – you can never believe this guy - ‘Topya lavto’!

It was a lovely morning and as we made our way through the Kondiwade village, we saw kids playing Kabaddi in school. As you cross the school, some local homes and farm houses, you come across a river to the right with infrequent glimpses of the local ladies washing clothes, egrets in search for food, ducks wading and quacking gleefully and the occasional cormorant perched on a stick or a beautiful blue kingfisher seemingly out of place perched on an overhead wire. Yashwant asked a young chap roosting on a bridge for directions and when the poor guy seemed lost in his thoughts, confused and unable to comprehend, Yo mocked “Jaaon de, paanyat kaay aahe te bagh”. Ahead as the river ends, you see the roof of a temple. Walking ahead, you come across some splendidly built bungalows and farmhouses. Keep going straight till you cross all the houses and at the next fork in the road, take the left towards Kondana village. The actual trek starts from here.

The trek to Rajmachi is a jungle trek and we crossed at least 3 huge waterfalls, which were dry and barren now, but would definitely have water gushing down in full force in the monsoons. This made us realize that this would be a relatively difficult trek in the rains as crossing the torrential waters would be quite a task. The entire path to the trek was lined by silver and white arrows marked by a helpful trekking group, so getting lost on this trek was difficult. About an hour of walking and we were at the steps leading to the Kondana caves. We didn't go to the caves since it was on our next day’s itinerary. We did rest here for some schezwan chaklis and khakras. Ahead we could hear the hooting shrill whistle of a train and we strained our eyes to see a tunnel on the mountain ahead with a train making an appearance, probably going to Lonavala. Though there are no rock patches on this trek, it is completely uphill and it will get your heart pumping wildly with each climbing step. Some stretch of the trek is filled with scree which makes you lose your footing and slip. Girish and I took the lead (what a transformation for me – I generally tend to trail on all the treks, often left out of breath). With sweat dripping profusely, the climb seemed unending and we had to frequently fool ourselves by saying that we were almost there. Walking through the jungle gives a pleasing feeling of being in the wilderness no matter how tired you are. Since we couldn't see the top of the mountain, we assumed that we were on top of it but our folly was shattered by a clearing in the thicket every now and then and the mountain peeping to life. The last part of the trek is the most strenuous and while we kept climbing thinking we were almost there, finally a small narrow passage was crossed and we were on the Rajmachi plateau with the Manoranjan fort straight ahead in our face. Phew! Were we really happy to finally reach! We waited for the others for another 15 minutes or so before their weary faces appeared. A little bit of rest and we tread ahead to the Rajmachi village which is another 20 minutes of walking – at the fork in the road, take the right path to reach to the village. From the village, the two forts can be clearly seen facing each other as if two people in love.

We decided initially to pitch our tents in the barren farm below a shady tree but thought otherwise when we heard that we could do the same on the forts as well. Vineet got down to his culinary skills and in no time we had a sumptuous meal of daal khichdi with a stray dog acting as the eight member. My thought of resting, rather sleeping and snoring away to glory for a while was turned down and off we went with our houses on our backs and reached the first and probably the only Darwaza of the Manoranjan fort in flat 30 minutes, an easy trek. From the village of Rajmachi, there are various ways to get to either of the forts, just ask the villagers and they will guide you the best path depending on where you are. A small climb from the door took us to the peak which has what looked like a huge storage room. The view on the right was simply incredible with the fort of Shreevardhan and a Naneghat like mountain posing and if you looked in the direction you came from, you see the Dukes Nose. To the left of the fort, you can see a flowing river and the village of Karjat and openly spread landscapes and valleys. There are many water cisterns on the fort and has potable water; the largest and cleanest cistern being near the storage. A headless Nandi and a Shivling guard the water body and the fort and us of course.

We had the entire fort to ourselves barring a few guys who left after the sun set. Watching the sun set for the city folks is more emotional than astronomical since there are very few times when they get to see this false miracle at such lengths and with so much of lavish time on their hands and with an equal amount of peace. The romantic union of myriad shades, the reddening of the orange and its smooth penetration into a shade of violet seems so effortless. The burning and angry halo of the sun embossed in the mingling and dissolving hues renders a sexual crescendo in the skies and the ecstasy of the orgy fades away after a moment as the setting sun tries to elope into oblivion.  We sat there mesmerized.
          We were not so hungry so decided to have a late dinner. The tents were pitched in the vicinity of the storage structure. While a few of us settled cozily in the tents and preferred to play cards, Nagesh, Yashwant and I ventured in the faint moonlight and walked to one end of the fort. As we set our legs dangling over the walls, the city lights glistened in the darkness and gave an impression of a fallen sky with their twinkling stars. There was no horizon now. The perfect setting to drink and savor the music and lyrics of Udaan!

Azaadiyan, azaadiyan, ye naa kabhi mile mile mile,
Azaadiyan, azaadiyan, jo chhine wohi jeele jeele jeele
          In the distance, the whistling of the train and its appearance out of nowhere in the darkness like a crawling glowworm stole our attention periodically. The sound of bhajans being sung from one of the temples in Karjat was so crystal clear that it felt like listening to a live performance sitting in the first row. It’s only when you experience such peace and tranquility, do you realize that there is a certain kind of beauty in darkness too! 

          As we walked back, Yashwant decided to rest while Nagesh and I roamed the entire upper section of the fort in the night – this was the closest I have come to night trekking and believe me, it’s an amazing experience altogether. The guys had lit up a small bonfire with Siddhesh in the lead and we let the fire heat up a few potatoes which were relished instantly the moment they were ready. Then pappads were toasted as we gossiped into the night. It was starting to get really cold and while Vineet took up the task of cooking dinner, a few of us dozed off. We finally had hot and piping masala bhaat which helped drive away some of the jittery cold. Post lunch, nobody needed an invitation to doze off so that’s what we did. In the middle of the night and early morning, the wind blew so hard, like a hungry animal that it felt like our tents would be carried away with us and like parachutes we would be deposited a long distance away. Thankfully nothing of that sort happened due to the sturdiness and commendable flexibility of the tents.

            The wind was still blowing with a rage as we brushed our teeth. As Vineet got down to make tea, he realized there was no sugar – this was the starting point of his verbal abuse for the rest of the day till we reached home and afterwards too! So tea was made with ParleG biscuits replacing sugar and accompanied by Maggi. We wound up our nomadic tidbits and ventured to the other fort of Shrivardhan. Shrivardhan is the larger fort amongst the two. Although the trek to the Rajmachi plateau is very arduous and strenuous, the trek to the 2 forts is relatively easy. So we were at the peak of Shreevardhan in about less than an hour. Behind us, the fort of Manoranjan lay like a giant lazing tortoise with its extended head. We could see where we had perched the night before. The views from the fort are truly mesmerizing. Sitting by the waving orange flag of victory, we had our photo session for a while. The outer walls of both the forts are intact and give a sturdy look to these watch towers. Both the forts having enough water cisterns and these are the source of potable water for the village of Rajmachi below. There are a few caves which act as accommodation centers for fellow travelers. In the valley between the two forts, is a shed like house which also can house quite a few trekkers. From the top of the Shrivardhan fort, the nearby mountain seems a Naneghat lookalike. It projects like one of those fighter plane runaway on a naval flight carrier. It would be fun to trek this place too! At the right end of the fort, at the buruj, is a cleverly built Chor Darwaza. After roaming the fort for some more time, we decided to head back. Had some refreshing tea at the house in the village before embarking on our return journey. There is no dearth of accommodation in the village and there are ample camping options as well. Food is also available at the local houses but you need to inform in advance. Vineet and 3 others (cook and his entourage) went ahead as they were to ready the afternoon meal at Kondana. The remaining three of us had another cup of tea as we chatted with the owner of the house. Descending gave a pleasurable feeling and a sense of achievement that we had accomplished such an uphill trek. Yashwant slithered rather than walked and fell a couple of times. Nothing new for him! 

          While alighting, we came across some couples who thought this was a picnic spot and had started the uphill task in the heat of the afternoon. The makeup on the girls’ faces had started to melt and they were cursing each other for having come. It took us roughly 2 hrs to reach Kondana caves where we had lunch and the rest of the journey took an hour more.
          Amazing trek, amazing views, amazing experience! Would like to come again during the rains! Getting back to the humdrum of the city, couldn’t resist humming these lines from Udaan

Aankhon Ke Pardon Pe Pyaara Sa Jo Tha Woh Nazara
Dhua Sa Ban Kar Udh Gaya Ab Na Raha
Baithe The Hum Toh Khwabon Ke Chaon Ke Tale
Chod Ke Unko Jaane Kahan Ko Chale

Hu tu tu

Village life

The river on the way

Posing at a potential waterfall

No matter how tired, but posing for the camera is compulsory

Manoranjan Fort

Finally at the Rajmachi plateau

Appearing out of nowhere

The twin forts of Manoranjan and Shrivardhan

Our kitchen below the tree
Chef Vineet and our khichdi

Getting to Maoranjan

At the Darwaza of Manoranjan

Looking ahead at Shrivardhan from its twin brother

The invisible way to Shrivardhan

Storage house


A glowing fruit

Mesmerizing sunset

Our makaans

On the way to Shrivardhan

Leaving Manoranjan behind


Almost identical to Naneghat

Dizzying heights